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Dolphins: Panama City Beach

Last year I attended a conference with my friend Kathi in Panama City Beach.  Included in our registration was a ticket for a cruise of the harbor and nearby environs.  But we do live in Florida and a hurricane was threatening and we weren’t even sure if the conference would still run or whether it would be canceled.

As frequently happens, and very luckily for us, the hurricane made a last minute hook and veered further out into the Gulf.  Our convention was on.  However, as we got closer to our destination on I-10 from Jacksonville, we became aware that we were probably going to feel at least the edge of the hurricane in Panama City Beach.

We checked into our hotel and got our first view of the ocean.  The water was pretty churned up sending long rolling breakers crashing onto the shore.  The wind was blowing real strong and we wondered if our harbor cruise would be canceled.  We were not too sure if we would even want to get into a boat with weather conditions as they were!

We went down to the reception area and found out that the cruise was on and shuttles were running down to the harbor.  We decided to go check it out and were so pleased to discover that most of the area that the boat would be operating in was very protected.  So, along with about forty other people, we boarded and set sail into the approaching sunset.

The coastline was very pretty and there were little islands dotted around here and there.  Seagulls and pelicans swooped low over the water, probably hoping for a last meal before the sun went down.  The captain announced that he was going to pull around and head into an area where they usually saw dolphins.  Kathi and I decided to station ourselves right at the front of the boat so we wouldn’t miss a thing.

We cruised along a stretch of the outer harbor without seeing a single dolphin.  We were all scanning the waves but to no avail.  After running a little over time, the Captain said he would have to turn around and head back into the harbor. Shortly after his announcement a shout was heard and sure enough there were a couple of dolphins swimming ahead of the boat dipping in and out of the water.  We were all very excited and quite happy to have made the sighting.

At this point Kathi and I decided to step back from the front to allow others to watch.  We sat a little to one side (don’t ask me if it was port or starboard, I’m not a sailor!) and just chatted as we watched some of the small islands on our return to port.

Suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, immediately to the side of the boat and right in front of our eyes, a dolphin leapt out of the water.  This was not one of those curved-body, breaking-of-the-waves jump.  This was a straight-up-in-the-air,  shot-from-the-barrel-of-a-gun, all-muscles-involved leap of joy. 

We gave a great shout and leapt to the side railing.  My heart was beating wildly as I watched this incredible creature.  Just as he reached the pinnacle of his leap he gave a slight twist to one side, then went crashing back down into the sea. 

I was breathless, speechless, almost dizzy with joy at this amazing sight.  I clung to the railings trying to take it all in and was about to say something to Kathi when, whoosh, with a sudden surge the waters opened and up he came again. His body was sleek and powerful , his muscles rippling smoothly, glistening in the last rays of the evening sun.  It was almost as though he was saying, “Look at me!  See how beautiful I am!”.  And oh my God yes, he was strikingly beautiful as he hung fleetingly suspended in mid air.

He disappeared under the waves and I could feel my happiness collecting wildly in my throat.  I wanted to shout and scream and jump.  Tears were welling up in my eyes, the emotion was so strong.  We scanned the surface of the water but to no avail.  The show was over and the Captain turned into the port channel and took us safely back to our berthing.

I was quiet for this last leg of the cruise.  I needed to process the feelings, the sense of wonder that filled me.  I said a quiet thank you to God in my heart for this amazing gift that he had presented me with.  This world is truly an incredible creation that I need to appreciate and respect more and more with each passing day.  Back to the hotel we went and I slept with a heart overflowing with gratitude and love that night.   

Poetry: Summer Storms

As we were leaving Italy to come here in January 2004, many people told us about the Florida weather.  We were to expect mainly mild winters that resembled an Italian spring.  They warned us about hurricane season and gave us many tips for preparing for them.  But mostly people told us of the typical summer climate: hot and steamy with lots of rain and summer storms.

So as summer 2004 approached I mentally prepared myself for hot steamy mornings followed by afternoon summer storms, and clear evenings.  I also listened to advise that was given on various TV channels and in the newspaper, and stocked up on water, canned food, and batteries in case of hurricanes.  Then I hoped for the best because my husband was deployed!

Well the hot and steamy arrived, and sometimes we had afternoon rain. Some of the rain was pretty torrential and I know that certain areas suffered flooding.   Occasionally there were some crazy storms and we even rode the edge of a few hurricanes.  But we never really experienced the “typical Florida summer weather” – until this year.

I have never sat through, driven through, huddled in my living room through such storms as we have had this summer.  We have had some real humdingers and they have been almost daily.  We’ve had a few patches of just really beautiful days in between, but for the most part it’s been sunshine in the morning, cloud build up around lunch time, and skies opening up by early afternoon. 

Today was probably the worst storm yet in my opinion.  The sky slowly blackened, the wind picked up, and with a sudden explosion lightning lit up the sky and the thunder crashed in quick succession.  Almost immediately there was torrential rain, so fast, so heavy I could hardly make out the back yard fence.  It was scary and dramatic and reminded me of another storm that I experienced in Italy in the late summer of 1980.  A storm so violent that I wrote this poem.

The Storm

A distant rumbling from a blackened sky,

As though some celestial beast of prey

Was growling its deep-throated complaint

From behind iron bars.

Then came a sudden daylight burst of light,

And the heaven-bound lion roared its angry disapproval.

Without warning giant drops of heavy water

Cascaded from the skies,

Tumbling helter-skelter in their haste

To quench the parched ground.

So thick and fast they chased each other to the earth

A never-ending curtain stretched from all eternity.

Then, much later, with a final bellow of rage

And one last blinding flash of vivid blue,

The beast, its anger fully spent

Slinked belly low to a corner of the skies,

Leaving a sweet soft silence hanging in the air.